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NASA’s Cassini now in Saturn’s equatorial orbit; will study icy moons

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is back into Saturn’s equatorial orbits after almost two years enabling it to once again closely encounter other moons of the ringed planet other than Titan.

Cassini was hovering high above Saturn’s poles for nearly two years that limited its ability to encounter the moons apart from regular flybys of Titan, but now with the probe back to its equatorial orbits that will change.

The latest dual view of Saturn’s icy moon Rhea marks the return of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to the realm of the planet’s icy satellites.

The two views of Rhea [above] were taken about an hour-and-a-half apart when Cassini was about 50,000-80,000 km away from the moon.

The views show an expanded range of colours from those visible to human eyes in order to highlight subtle colour variations across Rhea’s surface.

In natural colour, the moon’s surface is fairly uniform. Cassini’s orbit will remain nearly equatorial for the rest of this year, during which the spacecraft will have four close encounters with Titan, two with Dione and three with the geyser-moon called Enceladus.

Cassini officially began its new set of equatorial orbits March 16. The Cassini mission is a joint project of NASA, European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.